St. Francis of Assisi is a parish church named for the patron saint of peacemakers. In response to a temporary closing of the Church of St. John the Baptist, a Franciscan priest founded the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in 1844. Beginning with only a small congregation, the Church soon grew to house a school in the 1860s, assembled by the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany. The beautiful building of Gothic Revival design that stands today was erected in 1892. Upon walking inside, focus is drawn to the phenomenal mosaic behind the altar. This incredible artwork, Rudolph Margreiter’s The Glorification of the Mother of Jesus, has been with the Church of St. Francis of Assisi since 1928. Observant of the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood and the lives of the surrounding population, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi holds a “Nightworkers Mass” at midnight along with a midday mass for those who work in the day time. The Church was renowned for its vast provision of food to the hungry during the Great Depression, and continues to this day to notably demonstrate Franciscan compassion, as they maintain an ongoing tradition of a daily breadline.
With a history dating back to 1840, the parish Church of St. John the Baptist has gone through several transformations. What began as a modest timber church now stands as a stone marvel of French-Gothic architecture. Frequent changes in pastorship took place over the years, giving rise to the church’s association with the Capuchin Friars and to the building of the now connected, Capuchin Monastery of St. John the Baptist. The church honors in a shrine Saint Pio Of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, a Capuchin Franciscan, known for his work giving relief to the suffering. There are entrances to this stunning historic church on both 30th and 31st Streets.
Completed in 1854, and housing a congregation that dates back to the 1600s, Marble Collegiate Church is one of the most prominent and stunning churches in New York. Its exterior stands out among the glimmering towers of Fifth Avenue – a breathtaking reminder of a smaller-scale New York of the nineteenth century.Several of us had the privilege of receiving a tour of Marble's magnificent space. Ashley Johnson, Marketing and Communications Manager, and our tour guide for the day, impressed us with her vast knowledge of the historic landmark. Pausing first at the exterior, Ashley explained the imposing iron fence surrounding the building – “It was originally to keep out cows,” she laughed. “Our nearest neighbor was a dairy farmer. Back in the 1800s, this was considered the sticks! You would’ve taken a carriage up Fifth Avenue (then a dirt path) to get here.” The blue and yellow ribbons hanging on the fence, she went on to say, are tributes to the soldiers and civilians injured or killed in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.Moving to the interior, we were struck by the lavishness of the sanctuary. One Manhattan Sideways team member exclaimed: “I’ve never seen a church with wallpaper before!” Ashley clarified, “It’s actually not wallpaper – it’s stencil.” The walls are painted a lush red, decorated with gold stencils of the fleur-de-lis. Complementing the deep color of the walls is the matching red upholstery covering the pews. After we had stared in awe for a considerable period of time, Ashley said: “The way you see this space now is how you would have seen it in 1891. This is High Victorian – not how it was originally conceived.” The church’s sanctuary, then, is a living record of the aesthetic changes to Marble Church. “When it was originally built, it was very stark – true to its Calvinistic roots.” There was clear glass in the windows at that time, she told us, and the interior was white and dominated by a central pulpit on the chancel.These features were later upgraded when Dr. David James Burrell became the senior minister of the church in the late 1800s. He removed the pulpit, “wanting to be closer to his congregation,” and oversaw extensive renovations of the sanctuary, including replacing the clear glass windows with stained glass, which can still be seen in the front hall narthex of the church.In 1900 and 1901, the church began what was to become a century-long project of replacing all the plain stained glass windows with the multi-colored pictorial scenes you can view today. The first two pictorial stained glass windows, installed at the turn of the nineteenth century, were fabricated by the world-renowned Tiffany Studios, headed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Depicting Biblical stories, the church’s oldest windows are breathtakingly detailed, featuring hand-painted, colorful glass of diverse textures and thicknesses. It is certainly easy to get lost in their storytelling. After the windows were installed, there was a long hiatus before the next window was commissioned. Ashley suggested a number of reasons for the wait: the Great Depression, WWII, and stained glass falling out of vogue. “The church had all of these Victorian style stained glass windows without pictures, and then there were these two Tiffany windows sitting right in the middle; it was a beautiful oddity.” In 1998, thanks to the generosity of church patrons Robert and Maria Ryneveld, Marble Collegiate Church set out to complete the vision that had begun 98 years earlier. As other patrons stepped forward, Marble began commissioning new windows, designed by talented artisans and created by some of the oldest, great stained glass fabricators in America: Rambusch, Lamb and Willet-Hauser. Today, the sanctuary window project is complete and houses 10 stunning stained glass windows, one after another. Standing close to many of them, we were able to observe each composition in dizzying detail.Continuing on our walk through the church, Ashley showed us the smaller, though no less beautiful, spaces Marble Church houses. Behind the sanctuary the children’s chapel is nestled. Decorated with beautiful frescos of scenery, it is a place for children and adults to find quiet. “It would be great for people to know about these spaces,” Ashley pointed out, adding that the children’s chapel is also ideal for intimate weddings and other ceremonies.Moving on, we visited a smaller prayer chapel, as well as a parlor decorated with photos of Marble Collegiate Church at its various states of construction and renovation. Then we were led downstairs, to a large labyrinth in the basement. “This is one of the only inlaid labyrinths in the city,” Ashley informed us. “It’s open to the public on Wednesday evenings and the first Sunday of the month. It’s a very relaxing place,” she said. “Many people confuse this with a maze, but it's not – it’s a labyrinth, so there’s no way to get lost.” As we were contemplating the winding pathways, the staff at Marble was preparing for one of their frequent walking events, lining the labyrinth with tea lights. We all agreed that it is rare for one to be able to have this kind of meditative experience in Manhattan.After visiting the basement chapel – a small, contemporary room outfitted with hardwood – we moved into the peaceful columbarium. “It’s very unusual to find places to put loved ones to rest in New York,” Ashley mentioned. A somber note to end on, but we certainly appreciated the time spent inside Marble Collegiate Church.
Approaching almost fifty years, the American Bartender's School has been teaching mixologists the ‘ology of mixing. Having moved in the ‘80s from their original location on Madison Avenue, the school offers forty-hour courses, with students leaving as certified bartenders with a license issued by the New York State Board of Education. Combining lectures and a “lab” portion, we witnessed students attentively toiling over drinks for phantom customers in a room designed to look like one giant bar. The difference, however, is that unlike a culinary school where one might sample their own creations, students do not imbibe here. In fact, there is no alcohol to be found at this bar. Everything is in the correct bottles and the colors all match their potent potable equivalent. What was explained to us is that everything is about measurements. Students are given a recipe to follow, and provided they do it correctly, they can rest assured that it will taste exactly right in the real world. We left wondering whether phantom customers are good tippers.
There is a lot of space to have fun and be funny at Pioneer's, formerly named Comedy Bar. Well that makes sense, as it is owned by Ali Farahnakian, the man behind the PIT (People's Improv Theater) on 24th Street, which opened a new location just down the street in 2015. We found this place to have a little bit of everything. A fan of pinball? There are several machines; Love playing Jenga with giant size blocks? They have them; Want to dance? The music is playing and there are others who will join in; Like comedy? There are open mic nights; Want to simply drink? The selection is fine, with a variety of beers on tap... and the bartenders are ready to chat; Hungry? There is a menu to choose from and lots of popcorn to go around.
This tiny shop tucked away in Kips Bay has been the go-to spot for any and all of one’s footwear-related troubles since it opened in 2014. Manuel Muicela, the owner, came to New York from Nicaragua in 1987 and quickly joined the trade of shoe repair, enduring grueling six-day workweeks. After gaining thirty years of experience in the field, he was finally able to open his own business. “I learned how to repair shoes, and now I work for me,” he remarked proudly. In this residential area, most of his regulars live in the neighborhood. On the loyalty of his customers, Manuel noted, “If you do a good job, people come back.” A few things about Manuel’s shop set him apart from the rest. One of the first things that grabs the eye upon entering is the set of old-fashioned shoeshine chairs, where one can get a shoeshine for $5, cash only. He also has a unique machine in the back of the shop that stitches both the inside and the outside of the shoe. With a chuckle, Manuel warned our team, “You can stitch your finger if you’re not careful.” This machine is so rare that many other shoe repair shop owners throughout the city come to Manuel to use it.
An oasis in a concrete cityscape, this little church doubles as a place of worship and a serene garden in which to rest. The Episcopalian church was founded in 1848 by George Houghton to welcome any and all of the tired masses, in the spirit of inclusivity. Today, the church maintains that inclusive spirit by keeping its gates open all day to parishioners and non-parishioners alike. On any given day, one can find anyone from actors to businessmen seated among the bushes and fountains, chatting, eating or simply sitting in peace. “A lot of people just come in and meditate or chill,” parish administrator Bill Nave shared with us. “It is one of the most welcoming churches I have ever been to.” What a charming discovery in the midst of bustling Manhattan.